“Tomb Raider” (PG-13)
If you’re a gamer, and you’ve played and been a fan of the Lara Croft series over the past couple of decades, the odds are that you’re going to like this reboot of what was hoped to be a film franchise starring Angelina Jolie as the action-loving, risk-taking, always-in-peril adventuress.
Only two films were made — the first one in 2001 and the second in 2003 — neither of which earned positive reviews or massive box office. Still, the game itself remained popular, and had its own reboot in 2013, leading directly to this new film, which serves as a prequel — telling how young Lara Croft became the Lara Croft we know — and provides the thrills and spills expected in a film like this.If you’re not a gamer, and have never seen a Lara Croft film, the same odds apply.
This is a wild ride that has Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina,” “The Danish Girl”) not only ably stepping into the shoes of Jolie, but absolutely dominating the film with charisma, action hero appeal, and the physicality it takes to play the part.
Here’s a handy tip to get the most fun out of watching “Tomb Raider:” Don’t even attempt to remember the exotic names of mythic characters or distant lands. Forget about the piling up of intricacies in the plot. You needn’t worry about the mysterious island in the middle of the Devil’s Sea or the lost tomb of an ancient, powerful and possibly evil queen of Japan. Just go with the action, which is always lurking around a corner, waiting to explode on the screen.
In previous Lara Croft films, the title character was a skilled fighter who was self-assured and determined, constantly running around saving the world from secret societies and mad scientists.
This time, she’s shown as a young girl who’s happiest when around her wealthy businessman/adventurer dad (Dominic West), then as an aimless young woman who’s never come to grips with her dad’s mysterious disappearance, eventually as the rebellious, stubborn, brave, quick-witted, and physically fit heroine.
A nice touch in the script is that she’s in really good shape even before she knows she’s going on an adventure. Her everyday activities in London include delivering food — a la Peter Parker — as a bicycle courier, and working out in an MMA ring. On top of that, Vikander’s Lara is much more fun to be around than Jolie’s, who came across as a little too slick and serious.
An amusing chase through the London streets soon turns to a serious storyline, with Lara finally giving in to mounting pressures to accept her still-missing father’s demise and sign papers that will make her a beneficiary. That decision is what leads to an unexpected journey, one that takes her to the Far East, then to a mysterious island and from one treacherous situation leading to another.
If a spectacular shipwreck in “the most dangerous stretch of water between Hong Kong and California” isn’t enough, there’s also a whole torrent of events — lifted directly from the 2013 game — that tosses her into the midst of a thrilling, breathtaking, perilous river-bound set piece.
Let’s not forget the all-important villain of the story, here a cold-blooded, trigger-happy, emotionally complicated mercenary named Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who oversees an army of slave workers on the island in a search of the remains of the ancient queen.
Amidst Indiana Jones-y settings, some gruesome events near the end, and even a couple of teary eyed personal moments, “Tomb Raider” features strong performances and engaging technical achievements, as well as fast-paced, sturdy direction from Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (“The Wave”).
There’s also an unnecessary, but pretty cool sequel-ready conclusion. It looks like the folks who put this together knew that they had a hit on their hands.